Film Review: Dream House

DreamHouse headerDream House is an interesting idea, not a horror film, and has no idea what to do with itself; crumbling under a ridiculous exposition heavy third act twist that is almost laughable.  Poor and misleading marketing will make reactions to this film far worse then It deserves though as there could have been something here.

This movie is next to impossible to discuss without spoilers so I will give you the best synopsis I can then it is spoilers the rest of the way. Deal? Ok.  The film revolves a family, the Atenton’s, who have moved into their ideal home with the father, Will, now being able to stay at home as he works on his book deal.  An ex-editor, Will is excited to spend more time with his family and get to work on his book while his family settles into their new home.  As the days go by though, the family discovers some weird happenings surrounding them.  Footsteps in the lawn, mysterious watchers in the woods, and the discovery that the previous family owners were murdered; save the also wounded father who was accused of the crime but went insane and was placed in a mental facility.  Will fears that the recently discharged father, Peter Ward, is the man lingering around their house and he sets off on an investigation to get to the bottom of where Ward is and how to stop him.  Ok, spoilers from here on out.  You were warned.


OK, my methods to try and not spoil the film are far more concerned than the marketers of the film, as they reveal the first act twist in the 30 second TV spots, but we discover that Ward is Atenton and that his family is a delusion of his loved ones he supposedly murdered.  The first act is well constructed and has a lot of moments that would play great a second time through if you weren’t spoiled of this particular twist.  I was even trying to actively not have the film spoiled and couldn’t avoid it and it is a shame because it is a solid little twist; especially for the first act.  The twist sets up the film to be an interesting character study of catharsis and potentially an engaging investigation if Ward turns out to be innocent.  The former works ok, the latter fails miserably.

Coming to terms with your illness by working through it with the delusions of your dead love ones, you apparently murdered at that, is a fucked up premise and one that isn’t nearly explored deep enough.  A couple of good scenes do get squeezed out of the premise, Dale watching his daughters die as he denies their existence the standout, but mostly the second act catharsis is used to let you know that Dale is innocent and he comes to peace with his family’s death.

It’s the third act where the wheels come flying off.  The neighbor and her relationship with her husband has been a barely touched on subplot in the film up till the final act but it becomes the crutch everything hinges on for the climax.  Apparently the evil ex of the Dales’ neighbor, Ann, hired the guy that murdered the Dales to actually kill Ann so he could collect on the insurance.  The hired hand went to the wrong house and decided, “I will just kill these people instead.”

So let’s get into the plot holes and silliness of the third act:

-you don’t give the guy the address or a picture of his mark?  They even show the ex giving the hit man directions, “third house on the left.”

-The ex, played by Marton Csokas, is so over the top evil it is no surprise he was behind this mess.  The acting is atrocious by the way.

-when the murderer is in the house, Dale’s wife is on the phone with him and we find out that Dale is standing outside calling them on his cell for no reason whatsoever; other then making sure he is out of the house so his family can be murdered and so the film can exist.

-I am pretty sure the murderer, played by Elias Koteas, is some random homeless guy.

-the ex tried to murder his wife 5 years ago, but they are still in the process of divorce?  What?

-the ADR’d exposition added in to try and make the third act convey any sort of sense doesn’t work, but you can just feel how desperate they are to try and cover their tracks as they don’t want anyone to see how lost they are.

-the Ex re-enlists the help of his failed hit man so they and put things right by putting Ann and Dale in the house with hopes of burning it down and making it look like Dale murdered her too in a relapse.  (And why did they let this guy out, even if there wasn’t enough evidence to hold him any longer, he clearly wasn’t stable; I don’t care if you try and validate it with a throw away line.)

-the Ex also shoots the hit man, disgustingly calling him a child killer in the process, from point blank range, but don’t worry the hit man will crawl over to the steps in time with a tub of gasoline to make sure the Ex burns in flames in the basement.

-Jim Sheridan flirts with ripping off Ghost, as the wife, Libby, runs through the basement hitting things to distract the Ex while Dale rescues Ann.  What they forgot is that they pretty clearly established that these aren’t ghosts Dale is seeing but figments of his imagination, or was her being able to manipulate things another twist I missed? Intriguing?

-Dale calmly works his way through the burning house to say goodbye to his dead/delusion family. Pretty sure he doesn’t get out of there after taking a couple minutes to kneel down in the flames.

This isn’t to say the rest of the film doesn’t have its quirks and oddities as well, but the third act is a giant clustercuss of a mess.

Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Naomi Watts all deliver average acting work at best, not that they are given a lot to work with, but Craig kept me interested for the first 2/3 at least.  This is not an actors’ showcase.

In the end, Dream House has an interesting idea it doesn’t nearly take full advantage of.  To make things worse, its third act comes out of nowhere and is terrible above that.  When your third act hinges on characters we barely see or care about for the first two you can’t expect good things and nothing good comes of it.  When viewed from a clean perspective, devoid of marketing, on cable down the line, the first two thirds of this movie will be considered enjoyable I imagine.  I am just as sure that it still won’t be able to overcome the terribleness of the third act I outlined above.  Skip it in theaters, but maybe give it a shot on cable, the third act is good for a laugh if anything.

Dream House is a D

5 thoughts on “Film Review: Dream House

  1. Now, I want to start out by saying that I read reviews on Having Said That all the time, and normally find them informative, even if I don’t agree with the opinions of the particular reviewer. Unfortunately, this review left such a bad taste in my mouth I felt like I really had to comment on it.

    Yes, I agree with you that ‘Dream House’ was an excellent idea with a less than great presentation and the trailers gave away so much the movie lost out on some great twists. I’m not sure why you didn’t just expand on that instead of making some of the idiotic points you made about the third act.

    “They even show the ex giving the hit man directions, “third house on the left.” ” When the ‘real estate’ agent drives him to his house there’s a discussion about the difficulty of finding which house was which, this is one of the few points actually addressed in the beginning of the movie.

    “Dale is standing outside calling them on his cell for no reason whatsoever” Did you not catch that this is an exact parallel with the first ‘act’ when Will calls his family from outside to surprise his wife and kids. It just shows how his imaginary life was shaped by the events of the night when his family was killed.

    “the ex tried to murder his wife 5 years ago, but they are still in the process of divorce? What?” Do you have any idea how long a divorce takes when you’re in a legal battle and kids are involved? This would be a better point if they were still living in the same house, but they’re obviously separated.

    “the Ex also shoots the hit man, disgustingly calling him a child killer in the process” So he killed two kids but it’s disgusting to call him a child killer? I mean, the guy shot two kids point blank, that’s pretty sick…

    “Pretty sure he doesn’t get out of *their*” Just for the record: there = a place, such as a burning house, their = plural possessive, they’re = a contraction of they + are. (I’m not usually a grammar critic, but you make this mistake in almost every one of your reviews).

    1. Thanks for the response, first a note on my poor grammar. Yes I am aware of the multiple definitions and spellings of there/their/they’re, and the condescending tone isn’t appreciated. That condescention should have been directed at my obvious lack of proof reading and editing to the article, which I will admit too freely, as I wrote this with the infuriating auto correct on my iPad while watching my Cardinals lose Game 1 of the LDS to the Phillies. So yes, I should have proof read this better, and any instances of their/there/they’re confussion in any of my reviews is simply due to lack of either proofing or stream of consciousness spitting the first version that pops into my head and through my finger tips. I am not making excuses, lack of proofing is actually a more egregious error, I was simply in a rush to get this up yesterday and was happy to put the movie behind me. All of this discussion is basically to say thanks for lighting a fire under my ass to make sure I proof all of my stories more throughly from here on out.
      As for our disagreements on the film, I still can’t agree that you disproved anything with your rebuttal’s.
      Let’s start with the directions issue. Arguing that the film shows it is difficult to tell which house is which (which I am not even sure it did, the moment I think you are referring too was actually supposed to be the relator having an awkwardness over explaining to the delusional and suspected murderer where his own house was after 5 years. Plus these scenes were all taking place under the heavy influence of Dale’s skewed perspective which makes them invalid to hold as truths.) does not disprove that when you hire someone to murder your wife you should give them her address and a picture; not turn by turn directions.
      As for the argument that the scene with Dale outside the house was a parallel to his delusion in the beginning, I am not disagreeing, but that still doesn’t explain why the hell he was standing out there; other than having an excuse to have him out of the house. I mean seriously, who stands outside and calls your family instead of just going in and seeing them; after a long days work in the snow no less. So yes, your argument is correct, but doesn’t refute my point.
      As for the divorce, yes I understand they can take a while, but 5 years? That is a stretch and they would have to be married for him to collect the insurance; unless Ex was planning on killing his daughter after the wife. I also don’t understand how them living together or not changes anything.
      Disgustingly was an adjective for the Ex’s tone, not a judgement of him calling the hit man a child killer. The hit man deserved it, but the Ex was also very hypocritical as he himself is responsible for their deaths and is a murderer in the making; hence the use of disgustingly.
      And your last comment I addressed above.
      Thanks for reading Nora, hope my grammar doesn’t keep you away. Look forward to your response, if you have
      P.S. I wrote this on my iPad again, so sorry for any auto correct issues. Did a once over proof though.

  2. Zac, I appreciate your criticism of my critique and while I’d love to engage you in yet another debate your argument seems to have degenerated into “because I still think it’s stupid” and I’m not really sure how to respond to that, but you did ask me to respond, so here you go. Yes, I do agree with you that my points did no more to strengthen my opinions or disprove your points than your initial points strengthen your argument. The obvious difference between the two of us being that I’m a reader of your site commenting and you claim to be a professional reviewer.

    Speaking of professionalism, I neither care about baseball nor the Cardinals and whether or not they won their game. I also think it’s a bit ridiculous for you to think that this is a valid excuse as to why you posted a first draft on your publications site without proofing it. If you were actually working in a paid-professional environment and gave that excuse for posting mediocre work to your publisher you’d be fired (and while I may not be a professional reviewer I am a professional copy editor so I do know how the world of publishing works). There are many great professional websites out there that utilize free blogging software, but they have to establish a reputation of quality before they are even begun to be taken seriously. Lazily posted a draft you admit you didn’t proof and wrote while watching a baseball game you’re not only disrespecting your publication, but the other reviewers on this site, as well as the readers who take time out of their day to read what you put up. I’ve read almost all of the reviews on your site and I frequently disagree with many of these reviewers opinions, but at least they take the time to proof their copies, and while I’ve seen plenty of other grammar, spelling, and typing mistakes none of them have been so consistent as yours.

    Maybe you should learn a lesson from them and take this site and your reviews as seriously as you take yourself.

  3. Nora,
    I don’t know why you are so hostile in your response.
    I fell on my sword, admitted my faults in hastily posting, and clearly say in my response, “I am not making excuses.” I spent my opening paragraph admitting and agreeing with everything you have chosen to attack me for in your response. I also honestly thanked you in my response. I am sorry if you took my tone as something it wasn’t, but I was very genuine in my sincerity towards lighting a fire to treat all stories with as fine of an editing comb that I possess. People make typos from time to time, every major site or writer I frequent has and will again. I am sorry if I make them more consistently then you would like, I will work harder to try and correct this; as I already said.
    Your hostility also takes form in framing me as some arrogant and concede writer sitting behind my computer. I don’t believe I devolved into a, “I still think its stupid,” tone that you accuse me of and I certainly don’t take myself as seriously as you think I do. I don’t know how I could have been more gracious in my response in hopes that you would come back and discuss the film further. I am a film lover who likes to write as best he can and is most interested in getting his opinion out there, not that it is perfectly written. I do hope my writing continues to grow and wish I was a more diligent editor but above all this doesn’t affect my opinion of film. I was hoping to continue on a discussion of this film, not be berated for something I admitted to falling short at and for an assumed opinion of myself that couldn’t be further from the truth.
    I hope this response helps clear up any crossed wires we might have had over a loss of tone through the internet and I hope that you return to read, if no longer my own, our other great writers’ works.

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